When it comes to medical marijuana in California, it's available through dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives. And the Lodi City Council wants nothing to do with any of them. During a meeting Tuesday morning, the council unilaterally voiced its opposition to any type of organized marijuana group within city limits.
The discussion was meant to help city staff develop an ordinance that sets the city's position on marijuana distribution. A previously established city moratorium on dispensaries is set to expire in April, and the ordinance is scheduled to take effect at the same time.
The ordinance will take the city's opposition to marijuana distribution to a new level: In addition to dispensaries, medical marijuana collectives and co-ops will also become outlawed in Lodi.
In public comments during the session, council members cited numerous legal inconsistencies (such as medical marijuana still being considered illegal at the federal level) and safety concerns as their reasons for opposition.
"I'm not sure why we'd want to move forward (with dispensaries) in the face of such inconsistency at the legal level," Mayor Bob Johnson said. "The legal horizon is so hazy, let's just stay away from it."
"I appreciate those who feel the medical need for (marijuana), but I just can't support it," council member Larry Hansen said.
But medical marijuana advocates in attendance argued that the city would deprive itself of income and its citizens of a great resource by approving such an ordinance.
"There are people in Lodi and the surrounding areas who would benefit immensely from a dispensary here in Lodi," said local resident Robin Rushing. He cited the long distance users have to travel to obtain marijuana (the nearest dispensary is in Sacramento) as a major hindrance.
Brian Wendell, who works at the Fruitridge Health and Wellness dispensary in Sacramento, said surrounding businesses also get a boost from a local dispensary: Since many users travel from far away to obtain medical marijuana legally, they end up spending money on things like gas and food in the community, he said.
Council members also expressed concern about dispensaries bringing increased crime with them. Interim police chief Gary Benincasa was in attendance, and said crime was definitely an issue with dispensaries.
"Historically when you look at other communities (with dispensaries) ... there have been significant increases in crime," he said.
"I see more crime going on with 7-Eleven stores," he said. "When you say there's going to be a lot more crime, I don't believe it."
Other medical marijuana advocates side with Rushing's point of view. Gary Mull, president of the California Cannabis Association, has said previously that no evidence exists to support the view that dispensaries bring an increase in crime.
"When you compare it to your local market, the number of (criminal) incidents having to do with marijuana dispensaries is minuscule," he said.
By taking the extra step of prohibiting collectives and co-ops with a new ordinance, the council will also be restricting growth for personal use. Deputy City Attorney Janice Magdich said collectives and co-ops are meant to be nonprofit groups where marijuana is grown specifically for group members. But Magdich added that significant amounts of money are still changing hands in these operations.
Ultimately, the council decided to emulate other communities such as Tracy, which bans all marijuana growing operations all-together.
"There's just a lot of unanswered questions," Hansen said. "I think, eventually, the voters are going to decide this."
Despite the ordinance's constraints, it will not prohibit individuals from growing their own individual plants.
City staff will now draft an ordinance, which will then be introduced on Feb. 16.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at firstname.lastname@example.org.